At times, I hear people talking or worrying about the future of our religion especially in North America. We have a concern - whether or not the young generation will be able to maintain the Jain identity here and whether they will be able to continue the legacy of sharing and caring. And my answer to this question is - Take it easy. Have trust and faith. Our next generation is very capable. They will figure it out and will learn how to take this legacy, this great thought further.
Sociologist say that we have never ever had such a powerful, vibrant and efficient generation in the history of humankind. The amount of exposure, educational facilities and financial resources they receive is just matchless. All of you have worked very hard to make them so capable. And I am sure that they are also very much aware that they are the successors of a great tradition and that they must continue the legacy they have inherited.
Interestingly, this challenge of young people interested in religion existed in the times of Tirthankar Mahavir also. People asked Mahavir, ‘Which religion can remain alive? Which society can have a better future.?’ Tirthankar Mahavir said, ‘ The religion in which young people raise questions and the older generation gives answers , that religion and society gradually fades away without a promising future. But the religion in which the older generation raises questions and the younger generation gives answers with their wisdom, innovation and enthusiasm, Bhagwan said, that is the religion which survives and has a strong future with a much better chance of growth and survival.’
I think the answer is clear. We need to give our young people a chance. We need to trust them. It might happen that some of the outward practices of our religion will differ in the future. May be the next generation will reform some of the rituals according to time and circumstances. But I am sure that the essence of Ahimsa, Anekant and Aparigrah will continue. The crux of Mahavir’s life is compassion. And I think you all agree with me that our young people are blessed with innocence and compassion, and they are endowed with gifts of natural virtue and empathy for others.
Some years ago, a group of young people from the US and London came to Veerayatan’s Bihar center to volunteer. One day, during the programme, we took them to Pawapuri, the Nirvana site of Tirthankar Mahavir. A food distribution programme was organised and hundreds of local children came. As we all know that Bihar is a place that struggles for basic necessities. Many of the children were without proper clothes and even the idea of shoes was out of the question. The children were hungry and wanted more and more food. Young people from the US and London were so moved to see this terrible situation in the land of Mahavir that they wanted to give everything to those poor children. They took off their jackets, jumpers, coats, shoes and immediately donated their belongings to those deprived kids. We kept telling them that it was cold, that they would need their clothes. But they replied that these poor children needed those warm clothes more than they.
We Sadhvis were awestruck and wondered who had taught them this compassion, from where they had learned such empathy. They might not have gone to temples each day and may not have followed the prescribed rituals, or might not have listened to long lectures. But the compassion of Mahavir has touched their hearts, and with their acts of kindness and compassion, they will be able to continue this great legacy of sharing and caring.
Do we expect any greater religion in our young people than this? Probably their methodology will be different, may be their version of religion will be slightly different than ours but the essence of religion, the practice of compassion and passion for spirituality will surely grow and flourish in the United States – the land of development and modernisation.
My brothers and sisters! Every religion has two spheres –its principles and practices. The inner core, the center of our religion is ahimsa, compassion, love and truth which are non-changeable, non-negotiable. They are true in all circumstances and in all times. However, the outer circumference includes the kind of rituals we practice - the methods of observing these rituals and various other disciplines like what kind of food we can eat, what kind of clothes we can wear or what kind of worship we do at temples.
Interestingly the outer circumference of any religion, I mean the mode and methods of practicing these rituals are changeable according to time and circumstances. And we have witnessed this change in the code of conducts throughout the history in almost every religion. I think our young people are in much agreement that the inner core of our religion is ahimsa, love and compassion and that need to practice with utmost devotion. However, sometimes they get bewildered and confused with the practice of some traditional rituals, which may or may not be relevant in modern day and time.
I think we should allow our young people to bring a change in the outer structure of religion. We should let them think out of the box and I am sure that they will come up with some fantastic ideas about how to practice religion in 21st century. Let us have a conference to ask young people what form of religion they would like to have in the coming times. May be they will emphasise meditation more rather than practicing some traditional rituals, may be they will pursue more humanitarian service as a form of the practice of religion. I do not know what kind of change they might bring in the outer structure of religion but I am confident that if they are given a free hand, they will envisage a very rationale, practical and logical way of observing religion in the times to come. I will not be surprised if their model might even be a bit better than ours.
To conclude I want to say that in the regular world one plus one may equal two but in the spiritual world one plus one is eleven. There are so many good people and leading organisation doing fantastic work. But our energy is fragmented. The power of negative is not that great, but if good forces are not together, the negative becomes powerful. If somehow we all can join hands on a single platform to represent Ahimsa, love and compassion, we will be able to combat hate, violence and war, which are creeping in our daily lives and harming our society.
And I think this is the best legacy we can hand over to the next generation, the best model we can present before the young generation to emulate - a model of working together not with separation and fragmentation but with cohesiveness and togetherness.